LINGUIST List 11.169

Wed Jan 26 2000

Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Lotfi, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function
  2. Kevin R. Gregg, Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Message 1: Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: 23 Jan 2000 23:06:38 EDT
From: Lotfi <>
Subject: Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

On Fri, 21 Jan 2000 15:34:50 EST, Pavel Orarto wrote in LINGUIST 11.130:
>No functionalist makes the absurd claim that children
>practice a form of mental time-travel (though didn't Chomsky and Halle
>sort-of say this in _Sound Pattern of English_?) What they do say is
>that language isn't fixed in stone at the age of two. It keeps on
>changing. That means that the processes that cause language change
>are also functional in the language facilities of individual speakers.
>So the grammar of a speaker of a language exhibits diachronic change
>through his life.
And no formalist makes the absurd claim that language is fixed in
stone at that age, or perhaps at any other. It's now a textbook fact
that language change is the law not the exception. But what disturbs
(at least me) is to assume large-scale diachronic changes to have any
significant effects on the process of language acquisition the child
goes through for a couple of years. Perhaps even language changes at
the level of species (phylogeny) are rooted in the final run in the
day-by-day discourse processes we all go through. But after all, the
L1 acquirer is exposed to a thin slice of such a historical flow, which
is processed and acquired AS IF it was fixed and stable.
Perhaps language L has been through a gradual historical change from
a synthetic type to an analytic one. And perhaps this can explain
many facts about L. But what the child is exposed to is a single state
of L 'frozen' somewhere (perhaps where we call an agglutinative
language) on its path towards future. Then while I agree with Pavel
that one's grammar shows diachronic changes through his life, I
seriously doubt that a language acquirer is/can be sensitive to such
changes that take place in two or three years. Time has stopped FOR
HIM! Then diachronic explanations can't shed any light on the process
of language acquisition. Any language at any stage of its historical
development is a temporally self-contained and learnable system for
normal human beings. Just to draw an analogy, language changes are
comparable with changes in the earth climate. Although they're real,
they're hardly noticeable in short time spans. Then I will be surprised
if you tell me that my four-year-old child's physiology is significantly
different from mine thirty years ago because of global warming we
experience today. His body behaves AS IF the earth climate is fixed
(though it's not). I'm sure I won't find a boy with a darker skin
sleeping in his bed tomorrow morning! And I'm sure the Persian he
speaks tomorrow is not measurably less synthetic than the one he spoke
Ahmad Reza Lotfi, Ph. D
Chair of English Dept. at Azad University, Esfahan, IRAN.
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Message 2: Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2000 11:36:49 +0900
From: Kevin R. Gregg <>
Subject: Disc: Newmeyer: Language Form & Language Function

Patrick C. Ryan writes (LINGUIST 11.109):

What strange kind of English would consider the sentence in the last
example [The rat that the cat that the dog bit chased ran.--krg]
As the sentence was written above, I doubt that any speaker of English would
acknowledge it as "English", let alone "grammatical:.

 But--and I had thought that this argument had been settled ages
ago--it doesn't matter what speakers of English acknowledge or refuse to
acknowledge about the grammaticality of sentences. Grammaticality is a
technical term within a theory of grammar, hence it's the theory that tells
us what's grammatical or not. What a native speaker, including the
theoretical linguist, can tell us, with absolute authority, is whether the
sentence is acceptable, to that speaker; but the whole community of
English-speakers could with one voice reject 'The rat that etc.' as
unacceptable, without--simply in virtue of that unanimity-- impugning in
the least the veridicality of the theory that marks it grammatical. The
rejection does, of course, ask for an explanation; but equally of course, a
quite plausible explanation has been given that 'saves' the grammaticality.

Kevin R. Gregg
Momoyama Gakuin University
(St. Andrew's University)
1-1 Manabino, Izumi
Osaka 594-1198 Japan 0725-54-3131 (ext. 3622)
fax. 0725-54-3202
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